Tuesday 28 May 2013

'But I don't want to go south!'

I recently picked up some of Ian Livingstone's First Fantasy gamebooks from eBay. These were intended as introductory gamebooks for younger readers, but I thought they might make for good stories to read to my daughter(s) - my three and a half year old is into Star Wars, the Princess Bride, the Neverending Story, and playing with the Heroquest miniatures, so...

And we had a bit of fun, skirting a two-headed giant, investigating a race involving immensly fat people (complete with belly wheels), but then the book insisted that the only way to proceed was to return to the previous junction and go south. My daughter had already rejected this option. 

'But I don't want to go south,' she said. 'I told you I didn't want to go south!'

'But that's the only way the book will let us go...' I said.

She shut the book and climbed down from my lap.

Actually, in the wake of receiving my Kickstarter copy of the new edition of Blacksand, I also plumped for copies of the Heroes Companion and the Crown of Kings. These three books have got me excited about Titan again - and you might have seen that Titan is close to my heart. I'll probably do some kind of review of the books at some point, perhaps comparing them to their counterparts in the original FF/AFF range. But for now I'll say that while The Crown of Kings is a pretty nifty conversion of the Sorcery! gamebooks, it will need to be a bit of tweeking if you are to accomodate 'willful' players unwilling to accept 'gamebookey' constraints on their action, be they three and a half or thirty five. I don't blame the admirable Graham Bottley, reviver of Advanced Fighting Fantasy, for the presence of these gamebook 'relics' - he was probably correct to err on the side of caution, ensuring the preservation of the character of Sorcery! series. But with a few changes here and there, when my gaming group finally reconvenes (Hand, Foot and Mouth has cancelled this evening's session), we might find ourselves brawling with Red-Eyes in Khare, Cityport of Traps!

Thursday 16 May 2013

Old School Aphorisms

Søren Kierkegaard, on the development of players characters by play, and emphasising that 'story' is something made after play:

Life can only be understood backwards... but it can only be lived forwards.

Ralph Waldo Emerson, on eschewing railroads for more sandbox-y play (with an emphasis on exploration):

Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail. 

Both pinched from the University of York Vice-Chancellor's speech, celebrating 50 years of my alma mater. They weren't talking about Old School gaming, and neither was the VC. Can anyone else do violence to the thoughts of long dead thinkers by recruiting them into the OSR?

Friday 10 May 2013

Hex Maps as In-Game Artefacts

The Second Empire of Humanity was dominated by Law. Angels lived deep inside the ziggurats, directing the affairs of humanity, motivating the Empire to civilise the heathens and bring order to the wild and weird beyond borderlands. Within civilised lands, Law demanded that the lands and people of the Empire were categorised and recorded. A key institution in this project was the Imperial School of Cartography, which instituted the model, maintained to this day, of idealised depictions of the nations of the Empire.

Something like this:

It is a shame that the Gazetteer series (and, actually, a lot of the BECMI D&D range) were not built to last - hardcovers were for the 'serious' AD&D gamers, it seems. Loose soft covers, unwieldy, if beautiful, hex maps - every time I dig something out of my box of GAZ goodness, the small tears grow a little bit bigger...  

Hex maps are wonderful gaming tools. They allow GMs and players to abstract movement and exploration to a level perfectly suited for sandbox play. More, they present the perfect foundations for a variety of sub games - domain management, trade, and war, for instance. It seems a pity, therefore, that when a player sees maps such as these, he or she sees them as objects that disassociate them from his or her characters in the game world. Thinking about this while on a lung busting run in the gym - incline up, heart rate at dangerous levels - I figured; 'why not make the hex map an object that exists in the world, so that when players consult a hex map (or fill one in, when mapping the wilderness ala The Isle of Dread) they can imagine that their characters are seeing the world abstracted in a similar fashion.'

[Of course, the production of hex maps that evoke these classic designs is within the reach of everyone, thanks to Hexographer.]

Thursday 9 May 2013

Harryhausen Tribute

So, Ray Harryhausen has died, a man who helped shaped the visual imagination of the fantastic for several generations. Not just what the fantastic should look like, but also how it should move - if I ask you to picture an animated skeleton, chances are the image in your mind will be moving as if it were animated by Harryhausen.

Now, countless better obituaries (see the BBC or the Guardian (which carried a couple of other pieces too [one, two] and a 'life in pictures' feature) than any that I would write - 'he lived a long life, his creations were extremely influential, and he was respected by most and revered by fans', - have been published - and plenty of bloggers (Warlord Paul and Telecanter, for example) have posted their own tributes to the influence that Ray Harryhausen  has had over their gaming imagination. 

So, having painted up some Harryhausen-esque skeletons, I decided let a bit more of Harryhausen's influence work its way into my gaming. I dug through my big box of bendy plastic fun, aka my Reaper Bones Vampire package, looking to find something else with echoes of the work of the great man. And I found this:

A GORGON! Armed with a bow, too. The details don't show up too well when the white plastic is bare, so...

A quick undercoat (despite what Reaper say, the Bones still benefit from some kind of priming) using Privateer Press' Menoth White Base, and then... 

... a liberal application of Vellejo Black Green Game Ink, and we can actually see what we're working with.

Umpteen different shades of green later (plus some Elf Flesh and Ogryn Flesh wash to give the upper body and face a bit of 'life') and we have a near finished miniature.

And here she is, based up and with the backing of a boy band's worth of Harryhausen-esque skeletons.

[Incidentally, for those of us Old School/Oldhammer bloggers with younger children (and a subscription to Lovefilm), the 'Claymation Story Book Classics' is actually a collection of very early Ray Harryhausen work - my daughter loves them, though I find them more than a bit sinister. But then I know what else moves in that manner, don't I?]